One of the more frustrating aspects of the Columbine shooting was the reports that the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team waited for four hours before entering the school. They were worried about bombs; the police’s SOPs said, essentially, that it was better to leave the students and staff inside the building on their own than to risk police lives to a potential bomb threat.
It doesn’t impugn the courage of any officer, or the integrity of the Jeffco SD, to say that when in doubt, police procedure left the citizen on his or her own – but I can’t imagine the frustration and horror that the parents outside must have felt, as the hours ticked by, knowing their kids were inside the building, not knowing if they were alive or dead but knowing that there were a whole lot of cops in battle rattle waiting in the assembly area not rushing in to save them.
Of course the horrific toll among New York’s first responders on 9/11 showed that astounding bravery is a common trait among American cops and firefighters. When the “standard operating procedure” is to go in and do what they’ve been trained to do, the police, fire, paramedics and other first responders in the US – and, I suspect, most of the world – step up and do the job.
But when I saw reports like this one from Mumbai – that the Mumbai police froze under fire from the terrorists during last week’s terror attacks – I thought about a couple of lessons that smart people learned from the wave of mass shootings in the US, among other places.
- You can not count on the police to save you from even petty street crime, much less this sort of systematic assault.
- When you leave both raw courage and standard procedure out of the equation, remember – the police aren’t soldiers. They are trained to uphold the law; to maintain control of situations where they generally have the advantage. Police do not train to fight pitched firefights against disciplined, motivated, military attackers – not even the SWAT teams.
- The only places on earth that are truly remotely safe from this sort of assault are the places where terrorists know that death (to them) doesn’t necessarily wear a uniform and drive in a plainly-identifiable car; places where the civilian population aren’t soft targets, like sheep in a pen. Nearly every mass-shooting in the United States in recent years has happened in places where the civilian isn’t allowed to have the means to self-defense at hand; schools, malls that are posted “no guns“, New York subways, colleges that are “gun-free zones” and the like.
Indians – individual Indians, anyway – seem to be learning all of these lessons; Sebastian D’Souza, the photographer who got so many portfolio-worthy shots of the gunmen as they carried out their mayhem, famously wrote:
The gunmen were terrifyingly professional, making sure at least one of them was able to fire their rifle while the other reloaded. By the time he managed to capture the killer on camera, Mr D’Souza had already seen two gunmen calmly stroll across the station concourse shooting both civilians and policemen, many of whom, he said, were armed but did not fire back. “I first saw the gunmen outside the station,” Mr D’Souza said. “With their rucksacks and Western clothes they looked like backpackers, not terrorists, but they were very heavily armed and clearly knew how to use their rifles…
The militants returned inside the station and headed towards a rear exit towards Chowpatty Beach. Mr D’Souza added: “I told some policemen the gunmen had moved towards the rear of the station but they refused to follow them. What is the point if having policemen with guns if they refuse to use them? I only wish I had a gun rather than a camera.”
Mumbaiian blogger Amitabh Bachchan’s post on his reaction to the attack has been getting a lot of attention (emphases added); like a lot of Americans when faced with this sort of unreasoning malice, he’s taken a sensible precaution and drawn a metaphorical line in Mumbai’s beach sand:
My pain has been the sight and plight of my innocent and vulnerable and completely insecure countrymen, facing the wrath of this terror attack. And my anger has been at the ineptitude of the authorities that have been ordained to look after us. I have simply loved and endorsed the sentiments expressed by one of those that came on for comments on the Arnab reportage, Suhel Seth. They were strong, precise and most apt. And of course I have had the greatest pride in those from the forces that have and continue to fight for our freedom. Brilliant officers and police personnel have laid down their lives for us. I can only but salute them and respect their sincerity in the call of duty.
The response needs to be much more than symbolic:
I have been at the receiving end of a million calls and an equal number of sms’s the whole day to come live on TV or on the print media to express my views on the current situation and am being lured by words such as ’we need you to speak to express solidarity and for the people to maintain their calm’.
This is disgusting !! I will NOT do that. TELL ME AND ORDER ME INSTEAD THAT WE REQUIRE FOR EVERY INDIAN TO GET UP AND WALK INTO THE FACILITIES WHERE THE ACTION IS ON AND I WILL BE THE FIRST TO WALK. But, please do not ask me to come and make sloppy statements that will do nothing more than create viewer interest in said particular channel ! I respect what the media is doing in serving the nation with its continuous information bulletins and I admire the brave and diligent manner in which they have devoted themselves to the cause. But what they expect me do I find against my ethics and want to be excused from it…
…As an Indian, I need to live in my own land, on my own soil with dignity and without fear. And I need an assurance on that.
And at the end of the day, one person is responsible for that assurance:
I am ashamed to say this and not afraid to share this now with the rest of the cyber world, that last night, as the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me I did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do.
Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver, loaded it and put it under my pillow. For a very disturbed sleep.
The responses in his comment section and the Indian (and other) media have been the sort of thing that any American Second-Amendment activist is well used to hearing. Bachchan responded in a way that’d do any of us proud:
The act of pulling out my revolver is a symbolic metaphor, a figure of speech, to demonstrate my complete loss in faith in the system and in the governance, in providing me, a citizen of India, with my rightful sense of security. It is to demonstrate that now I shall have to personally look after my family and myself and not depend on the state. A state that is just so miserably incapable of protecting its citizens…
…For too long we have remained the servile submissive nation. There has been no strong adjective to describe our character.
I’d love to interview Mr. Bachchan on the NARN one of these weekends.
The lessons should be obvious:
- Every citizen in a truly free society should have not only the right, but the means to ensure their own security.
- Indeed, it should be considered a duty, alongside voting and jury duty, for every citizen in a free society to be competent, equipped and capable of defending him/herself and his/her family from whatever disorder threatens them.
- No society that infringes those rights and responsibilities is really “free”, other than the “freedom” the coop of chickens enjoys as long as someone else keeps those foxes away.
Citizens in any “free society” should be a pack, not a herd or flock.